HALL OF FAMER
Trainer Padmanabhan’s filly Hall Of Famer (Win Legend-Elusive Trust) decimated the field in the cash-rich Calcutta Derby Stakes run at RCTC on Sunday, January 8 and pocketed the whopping winner’s purse of Rs 1.14 crore. It was a bloodless victory executed flawlessly by British rider David Allan who was peeping over his shoulder well before the winning post. As was expected, the top three spots in the season’s plum were occupied by the three outstation ‘final entrants’ – Hall Of Famer, Silver Beauty and the favourite Accolade, in that order. There is no doubt that the best horse won, though it might be mentioned here that Silver Beauty faced some degree of interference at the top of the straight. Hall Of Famer of course proved her superiority in no uncertain manner when she won the Indian Derby at Mumbai in great style.
It would be fair to say that David Allan outwitted his counterparts with a clever piece of horsemanship as the large field of eleven was nearing the bend. He slipped his mount through and grabbed the rails while Suraj Narredu atop Silver Beauty faced traffic problems and switched to the outside, thereby losing considerable ground. Trevor on Accolade gave chase to Hall Of Famer in the straight but the latter was travelling too well to give any anxious moments to her followers. Silver Beauty moved well in the final furlong to occupy the runner-up berth.
Trainer Padmanabhan has had a little more than his share of success at this centre (this being his third Derby winner in recent years, after In The Spotlight and Desert God). When asked whether the filly was difficult to train, the ‘man of the moment’ showed that he was not devoid of wit as he quipped “ Only wives are difficult to train, not fillies”.
The New Year’s Day races at this centre has always been a high profile ‘must attend’ event for socialites here since the introduction of this ‘sport of kings’ by the British centuries ago. Attired in their Sunday best, well-dressed men and colourfully clad women of all ages poured in through the turnstiles well before the first race at 11.30am. The stands were well and truly bulging by the third race of the day.
With the cold weather playing its part, this year’s mega event witnessed the largest gathering seen at the Kolkata racecourse. The record attendance of over 25,000 pleased RCTC CEO Sudhir Kothari no end. The turnstiles never stopped turning as visitors trooped in by the hundreds. The totalisator counters were jingling with cash right through the six hour period during which as many as ten races were conducted. The tote collection of nearly Rs 2 crore was almost double that of any other day.
The cash-rich Kunigal Stud Indian Produce Stakes with a winner’s purse of nearly Rs 12 lakh, saw Manvendra Singh-trained Fortune Express installed as the favourite while the sole filly in the field of five – Sana (Multidimensional-Yana) was available at 9/2. The other premier colt King Credible was available at 5/1. The pair of King Credible and Fortune Express went at each other’s throats as the gates opened and this undoubtedly aided the filly as Dashrath Singh improved her position along the rails to be in close touch with the pair before the turning for home. Fortune Express won the battle for the lead and the speedster appeared well placed to score at the distance marker. However, Dashrath turned on the heat with a couple of taps and the Bharath Singh-trained youngster stretched out beautifully to spare over a length at the wire.
Dashrath was also at his brilliant best in the Eveready RCTC Gold Vase as he piloted Bharath Singh-trained Shourisha for eventual speed and got the better of Square Moon at the wire. In this 2200 metres event, the lead changed hands several times before apprentice Hindu Singh did rather well to force a passage down the middle with Square Moon and looked a winner thereafter. However, Dashrath had his mount positioned well on the outside and rode him out hands and heels to land the spoils.The western India riding star completed a cup treble when he piloted Vijay Singh-trained Splash Proof to a clever victory in the race for The T2 Cup.
The rollicking finish of The Queen Elizabeth Second Cup complemented the glamour associated with this age old race at RCTC on Saturday. Bharath Singh’s lesser fancied runner Serendine (Multidimensional-Flowersoftheforest) edged out the 4/1 second favourite and stablemate Triumphus in a close contest which brought visitors to the edge of their seats. The whips were flashing in the final furlong and the ding-dong battle could have gone either way. It would be fair to say that apart from the weight advantage that four-year-olds are entitled to in such ‘terms’ races, it was in-form jockey Dashrath Singh’s hard finishing power that finally made the difference. On a fast track, the winner quite easily broke the three-minute barrier for the mile-and-three-quarter trip but fell well short of Diabolical’s record.
The same syndicate of owners from the Bharath Singh yard had led in Lochinvar in the day’s opening event, The French Cup. The stable resorted to runaway tactics on this occasion and it paid rich dividends as in the hands of Dashrath Singh, the colt held on to his fast diminishing advantage in the home stretch.
Later in the season, there was high drama at the Calcutta racecourse as Bharath Singh-trained filly Serendine (Multidimensional – Flowersoftheforest) pulled off a miraculous victory in the Calcutta St Leger. As in the Queen’s Cup just over a fortnight earlier, Dashrath Singh’s power-packed finish once again had a large role to play. With less than 100 metres left in the 2800 metres race, there were four horses in a line vying for the top spot. The quartet in contention were Ballister, Ophion, Cadman and Serendine on the wide outside. At that point, with all four runners going flat out, it looked like anybody’s race. However, Dashrath relived the Queen’s Cup moment with another thrilling victory. Not satisfied with the runner-up spot, Neeraj Rawal (atop Cadman) lodged an objection against the winner, on the grounds of intimidation and ‘bumping’. Kudos to the senior stipe for overruling this frivolous objection in a jiffy.
In fact, had Cadman won the race, Dashrath would have had sufficient ground to lodge an objection for being taken out by Cadman and Rawal near the 300m marker. Thereafter, Cadman tried to force a passage between Ophion and Serendine who was maintaining a straight path. When four runners are going hell for leather with barely 100 metres to go, there may be a touch or two, but there was definitely no intimidation and bumping as alleged by Rawal.
Mallesh Narredu’s assessment proved flawlessly accurate as his ward Colombiana (Noverre-Wondersmile) justified the final entry fee of Rs 10.5 lakh with a thunderous victory in the Indian Champion Cup run over 2000m. Despite being a tardy beginner, jockey Sandesh unhurriedly nursed the five-year-old horse in the rear of the nine-horse field till heads turned for home and brought him with a well-timed run to peg back Azzurro and Shivalik Showers who were battling for supremacy in the straight. Colombiana stopped the clock at 2min 2.072 sec, thus shaving off 0.392 second off Snowdrift’s time for the same event of 2015.
The next race, The Champagne Stakes, saw Bharath Singh’s Castlebridge (Burden Of Proof-Castle Queen) make every post a winning one in Trevor Patel’s hands. Form an outside draw, Trevor cut across the field and hugged the rails quickly, possibly surprising the natural front-runner King Credible (TS Jodha up) who was right at his tail in a jiffy. However, the proximity of the two animals resulted in Jodha’s mount tripping and coming down heavily. Zervan atop the favourite Anacapri was on the left flank of the faller and he too was thrown dangerously off his mount – but the domino effect did not end there. David Allan atop Rufus was in the last berth along the rails and had nowhere to go but right into the torso of King Credible. Allan’s mount too went down but the jockey rolled proficiently away from harm’s way. What probably saved Allan was that he had a split second to prepare for the impending disaster whereas the other two came down without any warning whatsoever. Zervan suffered a fractured leg while Jodha broke an arm. Sadly enough, King Credible had to be put down.
Though he missed out on the plums of the season, champion trainer Vijay Singh deserves special mention for steadily increasing his tally throughout the meet despite losing a major portion of his yard mid-way through the season. Ace jockey, Christopher Alford, earlier a regular at the Vijay Singh yard, was bound by contract and loyalty to ride for the Khaitan block which was shunted away from Vijay’s yard. The performance of the same runners at their new home did not live up to expectations. This might have cost Christopher the championship, as well as a six-week lay-off due to injury. But there’s no doubt that Dashrath was a deserving champion.
Apart from the classic winners, at least three horses and their mentors deserve mention for the clever placements of their wards which fetched them a little more than what they bargained for. These are Arti Doctor’s Taygetus who was ‘the horse of the season’, Vikash Jaiswal’s Jacknife and Vijay Singh’s Drops Of Jupiter.
RCTC is fortunate to have in their folds two of the best commentators in the trade – young Anit Casyab and the vastly experienced and renowned Cyrus Madan, who is in fact a former chairman of the Club. That in itself must be pretty unique. While Anit has a natural gift for his trade, Cyrus’s thorough knowledge of the heritage of the Club and the major events filtered through during his pre-race introductions, making him a pleasure to listen to.